Girl Talk: I Got Rid Of 90 Percent Of My Stuff, And I Feel Fine

By: Susannah Breslin / September 9, 2010

A few weeks ago, I moved. Prior to that day, I took a look around my one-bedroom apartment and realized what I already knew. I didn’t want most of this stuff. And if I didn’t want most of this stuff, why would I take the time, expend the energy, and spend the money moving it to somewhere new? So, I got rid of 90 percent of what I had, and, you know what? I don’t miss any of it.

Because I paced myself — to some degree — I was able to stop every time I got overloaded, overwhelmed, or confused. Really, the only tricky part of unloading the things to which you are attached is emotional.

In my adult life, I’ve probably moved eight to 10 times. Each time, the process has been different, but each time I’ve used the opportunity to take an inner-inventory and make sure I wasn’t lugging my past into my future. More often than not, I’ve gotten rid of lots of stuff. Moving house is a way to clean house, and when I clean house I like to dispose of everything that can go — from trinkets of relationships gone by to worn-out clothes to the general ephemera one accumulates by just, well, living.

This time, I wanted to be a bit more radical. I didn’t like most of my furniture, and where I was going I would be subletting, at least at first. Eyeballing most of what surrounded me, I couldn’t help but acknowledge that it would cost me way more to move these things than the items were worth. Last of all, I really wanted to make as much of a clean break and a fresh start as I could, and I’m someone who likes to act out those kinds of desires in the real world. Wanting to dump my current life, I dumped the contents of it literally.

But how do you get rid of 90 percent of what you’ve got? Pretty easily, I found out. I kept my plan simple. I would divide everything into three categories: what I wanted to keep (10 percent sounded about right to me), what I could donate (I figured that was about 80 percent of what I had — furniture, clothes I no longer wore, assorted kitchen stuffs), and what needed to be thrown away or recycled (this was way more than I expected, and, frankly, it grossed me out how much of what I had amounted to “garbage,” recyclable or not.)

The most time-consuming part of the entire endeavor was sorting everything into those three categories. I gave myself about two weeks to do this, although I’d say the bulk of that activity took place over the course of the last five or six days. To make the project manageable, I did one room at a time. I started with the bedroom, which was the easiest, then the main room, then the kitchen, and then the bathroom. (I had quite a bit of storage in the two large bathroom closets, so I saved the “worst” for last.)

Because I paced myself — to some degree — I was able to stop every time I got overloaded, overwhelmed, or confused. Really, the only tricky part of unloading the things to which you are attached is emotional.

(See: “Hoarders.”) When I couldn’t make up my mind about something (will I ever wear these jeans again? do I need an extra mouse? what about all these operational manuals?), I’d check in over at Unclutterer, a great blog that has a simple way of approaching the sometimes emotionally complex challenge of letting go. You can find specific advice on practically anything you can think of there — from what to do with bedding to handling sentimental clutter. Knowing that my issues were “common” helped make them more deal-with-able.

Eventually, the piles grew, the categories defined themselves, and I began to feel like I was making real headway. The hardest thing at this point was that I couldn’t excommunicate what I was gathering immediately. Technically, I suppose I could have, if I wanted to take a drive to the dump every day, but I didn’t want to do that. The donation truck was coming on a certain date two weeks out from when I started, I had called to schedule a special garbage pick-up by the city that would take place two days before my move, and the recycling pile that accumulated in the kitchen was so big it didn’t fit in the recycling bin outside.

The best and the worst days were when those folks finally came and started taking away my stuff. The best part was that all the stuff that had made moving through my apartment like trying to find my way through a maze was going to be gone. The worst part is that there were the inevitable snags. The bulk of what I was donating was being donated to a high-profile charity organization. When they showed up, 48 hours before my move, there were only two of them to move a heck of a lot of stuff, and the first guy in the door, without saying a word directly to me, began pointing to everything that he didn’t want to take. It wasn’t that he couldn’t. It was pretty clear he didn’t want to deal with it. Instead of freaking out, I said fine, got them to take what they could, and decided I’d deal with the rest (i.e., a six-foot sofa, a queen-size bed) later. (The next day, a friend’s husband helped me find homes for those things, and, voila, they were gone.) Lugging all the garbage and recycling to the curb in the rain by myself was not the best time I ever had, but eventually it was done. The unloading was physically exhausting, but in the final days, I could see the rug again. I started to feel … lighter.

By the time 90 percent of my stuff was gone, I was pretty frazzled. But I had reduced the load that I had been carrying to three suitcases and five 20″ x 20″ boxes. Radical? Yes. Did I “need” some of what I gave away? I guess. Since I’m subletting for now, I don’t need much, and that feels about right to me. For me, the entire process was like losing weight. When you lose a lot of weight — or at least when I do — you don’t sit around thinking, “Oh, my gosh, I lost so much weight!” You stop thinking about the fact that you need to lose weight. And then you can think about other stuff. Like the rest of your life and what you’re going to do with it.

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